TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Kei Nishikori began his quest for a second Japan Open title with a comprehensive 6-3 6-4 win over Croatia’s Ivan Dodig in front of a sell-out crowd on Wednesday.
The 10,000 Japanese spectators who had thronged the Ariake Colosseum went home satisfied as their national hero took 85 minutes to seal the contest in a tournament which has already seen shock first round exits for top seed Stan Wawrinka and 2009 champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The demand for tickets has soared since fourth seed Nishikori reached the U.S. Open final last month and the 24-year-old, who overcame a sluggish start to hit some pinpoint groundstrokes, did not let them down.
“Winning Kuala Lumpur (last week) gave me more confidence,” Nishikori told local reporters of his third title of the year.
“I try not to pay attention to the crowd or what the opponent is doing, but it’s always good to play at home. I can feel the support here,” said the local favourite, who faces Donald Young in the second round after the American beat Japan’s Go Soeda 6-4 6-2.
“(Young’s) definitely a tough player, he can play very aggressive,” said the 2012 champion.
“He’s also a lefty and that makes things even more complicated.”
For compatriot Tatsuma Ito, the euphoria after stunning Wawrinka did not last long as the wildcard was beaten 6-3 6-3 by Germany’s Benjamin Becker who will face American Jack Sock in the last eight.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Patrick Johnston)